Megan Doney

“Our Sweet Quiet Boys”1 or, Divinities Implacable

“A man’s honor always seems to want to kill a woman to satisfy it.”—Charlotte Perkins Gilman

This week it is a man in Uniontown, Ohio, near where I grew up. His wife’s coworker called for a welfare check after she did not show up for work. Officers found the entire family: father, mother, three children, aged fifteen, twelve, and nine—shot to death. What I always think of, in these stories, is that the last thing the children saw in life was their father, shooting them.

I take the word apart like a surgeon: 

annihilate: “reduce to nothing.” From Latin ad, to; and nihil, nothing.

A family annihilator, then, reduces his family to nothing.

Family annihilations happen every five days.2

November 2014/February 2018/May 2018/November 2021/May 2022

There is a shooting at ____________school.

I instantly surmise three things: 

one, that the shooter is male: “a sweet, quiet boy,” says one murderer’s family;

two, that the first victim is female; 

and three, that the shooter has gotten the gun at home. 

I have been right on all three counts dozens of times since. 

From the moment I entered school, I wanted to be the smartest girl in the room. Not anymore. Instead of pride and glee, knowledge ignites me with fury.

Gun violence is like the tower viewers found at scenic overlooks. Insert a quarter and you can scan the whole horizon, the landscape coming into vivid focus. Zero in on one shooting, and you will see a boy or man at the center with a woman’s body on the ground. Pull back, wider and wider, and you will see a crowd of men surrounded by graveyards of women.

South African writer and scholar Njabulo Ndebele, writing about the spectacular, reflects, “What is finally left and what is deeply etched in our minds is the spectacular contest between the powerless and the powerful.” 

Look at me.

The root of nihil, nil, comes from a proto-Indo-European root ne + hilum, “a small thing.”

I was having a bad week, my shooter told police, when they asked him why he opened fire at our school (male shooter, female victims).3

Women do not commit rampage shootings because we are angry at how our culture ignores, silences, and diminishes us, or because we have bad weeks.

It’s curious, isn’t it? Because don’t we have reason to act out this way? Don’t women have legitimate grievances that would, if not justify such violence, at least make it understandable? Has no one noticed that women and girls also play violent video games? And take psychiatric medications? And are romantically rejected? And have unfettered access to firearms? And grow up in homes without fathers? And get fired from their jobs? And have bad days and weeks and years?

There’s that aphorism about two young fish swimming together. An old fish asks How’s the water? and the young fish say What the hell is water?

We swim in the same water as men, yet we make utterly different choices. How do they not see this?

In January 2023, it was a man in Utah. He shot and killed his wife, his mother-in-law, his seventeen-year-old daughter, his thirteen-year-old daughter, his seven-year-old twins (boy and girl), and his four-year-old son. And then himself.

His wife had just filed for divorce.

The funeral home obituary for the murderer drew comments like these:

[Murderer’s name]…was always kind and good to us and always was willing to lend a helping hand. We don’t know the whys and how’s [sic] but I do know it’s not our right to judge. And the Lord loves [murderer] very much.

I’m grateful for his example of Christlike love and service.

The Furiae, or Erinyes, are the Greek goddesses of vengeance. They are called the Night-Born Sisters. Snakes undulate in their hair. They guard the dungeons of the damned, but come forth to punish murderers. Allecto, unceasing. Megaera, grudging. Tisiphone, avenging murder. 

Their name is ancient, from erinuô: I am angry.

I relish the story that they grew from drops of the blood spattered when their father Uranus was castrated by his son, Kronos. 

Once, I was afraid of my own fury. It swelled and pulsed through my veins and pounded in my brain and I used to run and run as far and fast as I could just to flatten it, to exhaust it, so that I would feel something, anything, else. 

But now it is a friend, it is familiar, it is icy and righteous and I will no longer try to pray it away.

“Malign Tisiphone seized a torch steeped in blood, put on a robe all red with dripping gore and wound a snake about her waist.”4

Look at me.

The rage I feel at this country which never ever calls it out, refuses to name what is so glaring to me and to literally anyone who pays a scintilla of attention: that rage is exhausting. 

The rage at the follow-up news story about the man in Utah: in 2020 he was investigated for domestic abuse, he choked their fourteen-year-old daughter, he took his wife’s devices to spy on her messages. He took away all the family’s guns, for himself. But, his Christlike love and service.

The annihilation is never the first sign that something is wrong. It’s the last.

How much energy all the women I know have expended, trying to create bubbles of protection around our bodies: cultivating brisk strides, parking under lights, carrying pepper spray, always trying to stay one step ahead of the men who would harass and rape and kill us. What might we do if we could direct that energy elsewhere? 

What would the United States look like if women killed every man who made them fear for their lives?

Is this why men kill us so frequently? Because they know what the streets would look like if we did it? 

I wish I knew the invocation that would summon the Furies. Erinuô.

Especially Tisiphone. Retribution.

The man who murdered seven people in Isla Vista, California in 2014 left behind a blood-freezing manifesto in which he chronicled every injustice done to him by the women in his life: his mother, his classmates, the nameless girls who strolled around town, heedless of his burning desire right to fuck them. 

“I concluded that women are flawed,” he wrote. “There is something mentally wrong with the way their brains are wired, as if they haven’t evolved from animal-like thinking. Women are like a plague that must be quarantined. When I came to this brilliant, perfect revelation, I felt like everything was now clear to me, in a bitter, twisted way. I am one of the few people on this world who has the intelligence to see this. I am like a god, and my purpose is to exact ultimate Retribution on all of the impurities I see in the world.”5

What if: his name had been Ellie, and her manifesto had said:

“I concluded that men are flawed. There is something mentally wrong with the way their brains are wired, as if they haven’t evolved from animal-like thinking. Men are like a plague that must be quarantined. When I came to this brilliant, perfect revelation, I felt like everything was now clear to me, in a bitter, twisted way. I am one of the few people on this world who has the intelligence to see this. I am like a goddess, and my purpose is to exact ultimate Retribution on all of the impurities I see in the world.”

“No prayer, no sacrifice, and no tears can move [the Furies], or protect the object of their persecution.”6

Make no mistake, if Ellie had left behind that manifesto, our national conversation about gun violence would relentlessly interrogate femininity, women’s anger, and revenge.

In Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Juno implores the Furies to punish a king and queen whose preening pride has insulted her. She journeys on a “downward path, gloomy with fatal yew trees: it leads through dumb silence to the infernal regions,” where she summons the Furies from the depths of Hell and requests vengeance upon those who have wronged her. Consider it done, says Tisiphone. Brandishing a torch and wearing a viper around her waist, she goes forth with Grief, Panic, Terror, and Madness at her side. “Stretching out her arms, wreathed with knots of vipers, she flailed her hair, and the snakes hissed at her movements. Some coiled over her shoulders, some slid over her breast, giving out whistling noises, vomiting blood, and flickering their tongues.”7

Someday, Ellie will commit a mass shooting in a male-dominated venue: a gun show, a sporting event, Congress. How will we respond when she leaves behind YouTube videos and a manifesto detailing repeated assaults by a male relative, or rape at the hands of a “friend,” or humiliating, victim-blaming skepticism from police? What if she recounts every single catcall, every uninvited grope, every obscene gesture, and every sexist comment she has ever received? What if she describes how an ex-partner posted intimate pictures of her on the internet without her consent? What if she describes being stalked by an ex-partner and dismissed for being overly cautious? What if she details the times she was silenced in a meeting at work, chastised for being too emotional, asked if she was on the rag? What if she rails at society for claiming her body as public property? What if she decides that her only recourse, her only way to reclaim power, is to pick up a gun and enact revenge on all the men who used their social privilege and physical size to remind her that she was a woman and, therefore, always less?

Tisiphone flings poisonous fluid at her victims, “those that cause vague delusions, dark oblivions of the mind, wickedness and weeping…[s]he had boiled them, mixed with fresh blood, in hollow bronze, stirred with a stalk of green hemlock.”8 Then she sets them on fire.

A conflagration reeking of testosterone, blood, metal and flesh, of entitlement and gleeful mockery: how lovely. 

Reduced to nothing.

1 Edwards, Stassa. “Dead Girls and ‘Our Sweet, Quiet Boys.”, 22 May 2018.




5 “My Twisted World.” The New York Times. 25 May 2014. 




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Megan Doney is a writer and English professor in Virginia. Her work has been published in New Limestone Review, Creative Nonfiction, Earth & Altar, and Inside Higher Ed, as well as in the anthologies Allegheny and If I Don’t Make It, I Love You: Survivors in the Aftermath of School Shootings. Her essay “The Wolf and the Dog” was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She was a Fulbright scholar in South Africa in 2007 and returned there in 2015 to study reconciliation and violence. Megan earned an MFA from Lesley University.